The United Kingdom – cloudy, drizzly, better-put-the-covers-on-the-pitch England – is forecast to become the largest market for solar PV in Europe in 2014.
Conservative estimates put the installation rate for the current year at around 2,500MW, which is about three times more than the average forecast (800MW) for Australia. Some industry forecasts expect more than 3,000MW to be installed in the UK in 2014.
The driving force behind the UK solar boom, according to US-based industry analysts NPD Solarbuzz, is the rapid growth of megawatt-scale, ground mounted solar PV farms, and the release of a government-mandated target of 20GW for solar installs by 2020
According to NPD Solarbuzz, around 16 megawatt-scale solar farms are under construction, and more than 120 have recently received project-planning approval. Many of them are targeting completion within the next 12 months.
By the end of April 2014, more than 325 solar PV farms in the megawatt (MW) class were completed in the UK, with more than 60 different sites having an installed capacity in excess of 10 MW.
Australia, on the other hand, with some of the best solar resources in the world – has just one megawatt-scale ground mounted solar farm – the 10MW Geenough River facility in Western Australia, and only a handful in development.
Another project, the 20MW Royalla solar farm near Canberra, is nearing completion, and two more projects, a 13MW and a 7MW will begin later this year, while work has begun on the two AGL solar flagships projects in western NSW.
Australia’s solar PV is dominated by the rooftop market – almost exclusively residential but increasingly in the commercial rooftop market – mostly between 30kW and 100kW on small to medium businesses, farms and office buildings and retail centres. According to Australia’s leading solar analyst, SunWiz, around 71MW of rooftop solar was registered in March.
Colville says the UK has now become a multi-billion dollar solar market, and establishing a large portfolio of solar PV assets has become an attractive long-term financial proposition.
Among those with a large portfolio in the UK are Australia’s Macquarie Group, which has committed nearly $200 million to the solar leasing industry in the UK, which fund zero upfront cost solar-power installations for low-income private homeowners and social housing tenants, as well as for commercial buildings across the UK. Macquarie recently established a solar leasing business in Australia, and has also obtained an electricity retail licence.
Trina Solar, meanwhile, says it expects the UK market to double from 1.45GW in 2013 to around 3GW in 2014.
“To put this into context, this would make the UK market bigger than Germany and the largest in Europe, driving the UK one or two places up the global rankings,” Richard Rushin, UK sales director for Trina Solar, said last week.